Leading up through Easter Sunday, Beneath the Tangles will be running a series of posts based on a theme with the hopes that it will lead our readers to consider the meaning of this week and especially of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our theme this year is loneliness.
In order to effectively bully someone, you need to render him helpless. Make him feel as if he’s alone. You do this with painful words and sometimes with violence, but you also do it by taking away anyone who might be the victim’s ally. Like wolves separating the weak from the rest of the herd, bullies isolate and then devour.
By the start of A Silent Voice, Shouya Ishida has been alone a long time. Without friends for some four or five years, he’s had to traverse the difficult terrain of schooling without comrades for hours every single day. His former friends-turned-tormentors spread the word that Shouya is a bad seed, the type of person you don’t want to hang around. The bullies succeeded long ago in isolating him and through years of doing so, they’ve nearly accomplished their goal, to destroy Shouya. And indeed, if he does go through with his plan to leap from a bridge, let there be no doubt: Shouya would not his own killer. The murder would be committed by the perpetrators who hurt, humiliated, and secluded him.
What kind of evil is at work here that would lead a person to treat another like that? I think I know, because I was a bully in middle school, too. Anger seething inside me would come out against one particular classmate, as I recruited others to join me in vicious name-calling that showed him to be different than us, less than us. Thankfully, that boy fought back and put me physically in my place. Filled with regret, I later apologized to him (It was not well-received).
In A Silent Voice, Shouya is metaphorically talked off the ledge, which happens because he starts building community again, beginning with Nagatsuka, who befriends him. As his community grows, so, too, does his self-confidence and self-esteem. Suicide is now off the table. He has people who love him and people whom he loves.
But it’s not all easy. Haunts of the past still speak to Shouya, perhaps instigated by having a couple of the bullies (or bystanders might be the more appropriate word) in the very group he’s building. Later in the film, Shouya rejects his new community, hurting each person in a stunning scene that feels like a gunman shooting down victims one by one. In two minutes, Shouya succeeds in isolating himself, as if he doesn’t know any other way to live.
And that’s a cost of a loneliness caused by bullying. The bullied sometimes neither desire it nor know how to live without it. A perpetrator’s words and action reach deep; they are not so easily swept aside.
But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. A genuine community cares for its members, stands by them when they fail, and pushes through ugliness to support them. Eventually, the same happens for Shouya, even though it takes a tragedy for that occur. His aggressive isolation is met by aggressive friendship (led, again, by Nagatsuka), as we find the old adage to be true—love is the answer. Community is key. Without it, we are left open on a plain, vulnerable to the pack of wolves that hunts us. Together, we are strong against the pack, a family that protects, loves, and even heals when injuries occur.
The cure for isolation is community, but the way there is perilous: it runs through our own misgivings and anxieties, the potential and likelihood that some will leave, and the difficulty in forming lasting bonds. But the work to get to a place of community is also community itself. And as it tends to be in the enormity of its grace, sacrifice, and tenderness, that which can chase away even the vilest of wolves and the fear they leave behind, community—love—is worth it. It is worth the cost.
A Silent Voice is now available for purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.